HBO News Blog

Movie Review: Broken City

By Marc Price on Dec 20, 2013 to New Movies

Smile, darn ya smile! You know the whole world is a great world after all!

You ever see “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” I love that movie. A private detective hired to investigate the seedy underbelly of cartoons and their creators. It’s a fun take on an old idea that proves as timeless as it is entertaining. It might be tangential, but I’m reminded of that movie after watching “Broken City”. Mainly because they both run through all the same elements.

Mark Wahlberg is Billy Taggart, ex-cop turned private eye. It seems like even with the years he’s put between himself and an emotionally shattering event, he still struggles with any sense of inner peace. Debts piling high, a fortunate connection with the mayor (Russell Crowe) gets him a job that he can’t turn down. Half up front, half when it’s done all he has to do is take some photos of a prominent and beautiful woman (the mayor’s wife that is) proving her infidelity. But when this simple task takes a turn for the worst, Taggart decides he needs to figure out just who’s at the bottom of this and why in order to fine some sense of absolution, for this and his past.

There are some parallels here with “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” in case you’ve never seen it, and interchanging the names and points of authority in the previous paragraph will show you that they have the same plot, give or take a few plot points. The reason for this is that these movies both follow the traditional structure of a private detective serial. What makes “Roger Rabbit” work was that it substituted the more cliche elements like shady characters and corrupt politicians with cartoons and their producers, creating a nice comical juxtaposition with the over-the-top noire atmosphere most movies like this have. What makes this movie not work is that it substituted nothing for the cliches and added boring. Everything this movie does seems to be for the sake of marking a hypothetical checklist of investigation tropes that lead nowhere but the typical. Which isn’t to say that the ending is something immediately predictable, but until then you’re just going through the ropes. The, “I’m just doing my job” scene, the “There’s more here than you realize” scene, “The integrity over money” scene, and to top it all off Wahlberg’s character is even a relapsing alcoholic. Even for the simplicity of the structure, it was difficult to completely follow everything that was happening until the very end because they had finally repeated the plot points enough to be able to connect them all. By that point, no one’s going to care what’s happening since there wasn’t any time to connect with it.


For all the times it got really dark, “Roger Rabbit” was a kid’s movie playing with adult themes, like a precursor to Pixar which meant the plot had to be very easy to follow and very engaging. That’s easy when the bad guys are weasels in varying unstable emotional and psychological states. Anticlimax doesn’t do the ending of “Broken City” justice. There’s no emotional payoff for anything that happens, nor is there any catharsis for having to sit through this slog. “Roger Rabbit’s” ending was so bonkers that it’s amazing they managed to pull it off, and for that it was memorable and entertaining. There’s even someone named Valiant in “Broken City”.

If you’re still studying for finals this might be something to put on as background noise if you need it, because there’s no way it’s going to distract you enough that you’ll lose focus on your notes. If you do find yourself wanting to watch a movie about private detectives watch “Roger Rabbit” instead, it’s a much better movie. Watch one of the myriad of other movies where Mark Wahlberg plays some sort of cop or Russell Crowe puts on a “half way there” accent. It’s weird; I could stand Russell Crowe’s voice in “Les Miserables”, but here it’s so grating. There are worse things to watch on a Saturday night, but this is pretty close.

Find an HBO Series

More HBO

Subscribe to HBO
Countries HBO Is In
Watch Game of Thrones Online
Watch The Leftovers Online
Watch Silicon Valley Online
HBO Premiere & Air Dates
True Detective Streaming
Other Streaming Television
HBO Boxing Live Stream
Game of Thrones on DVD & Blu-Ray
Watch Cinemax Online